Sept. 12, 2005 – Reversing a lower court and ignoring the arguments of civil- and human-rights groups, a federal appeals court Friday ruled that the United States government possesses the power to hold citizens indefinitely and without charges.
The decision comes little more than a year after the US Supreme Court found that citizens held in the "war on terror" had a right to challenge their detention and just months after a lower court ordered the government to charge or release within 45 days Jose Padilla, a Chicago-area resident accused of participating in a plot to explode a radioactive device in a major US city.
Advocacy organizations decried the ruling as an affront to international human rights. Amnesty Internationalâ€™s senior executive deputy director, Curt Goering, called the ruling "appalling, chilling and contrary to international law."
Human Rights First, which filed an amicus brief in the case, warned that the "courtâ€™s ruling effectively declares the entire world â€“ including the United States â€“ to be a battlefield subject to military jurisdiction, where American citizens can be stripped of their constitutional rights." Deborah Pearlstein, Director of the groupâ€™s US Law and Security Program, said they expect the Supreme Court to take up the matter.
Lawyers for the government have argued that Congress gave the president authority to hold Padilla as an enemy combatant when lawmakers enacted authorization for him to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organization or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."
In a statement Friday, American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro disputed the courtâ€™s holding: "Contrary to the court's opinion, there is very little reason to believe that Congress either anticipated or endorsed the military detention of US citizens arrested in the United States when it authorized a military strike against Afghanistan following 9/11."
Padilla was initially apprehended in May 2002 at Oâ€™Hare Airport in Chicago and held as a material witness to an alleged "dirty bomb" plot. A month later, President Bush declared him an "enemy combatant," effectively removing him from the criminal justice system and placing him in indefinite detention without legal counsel or other constitutional rights.